You think you’re doing all the right things—eating a healthy diet, exercising every day, getting a decent amount of sleep—yet you still don’t quite feel like you are on top of your game.
Perhaps you are experiencing some fatigue, brain fog, irritability or achiness in your joints. Maybe your digestive system seems a bit off lately, you can’t seem to get rid of that extra weight around the middle or you are having trouble sleeping. You mention this to your friends, even your doctor, and the all-around response is “these are just typical symptoms of aging.” And you think to yourself, “so this is what it feels like to get old” and you begin to spend more and more time commiserating with your friends also of “that certain age.”
But here is the good news—these symptoms probably have less to do with your age and everything to do with your environment! “Good news?” you ask. Well, not good that our surroundings are dragging us down, but good news in that there are things that you can do to feel better!
In today’s world, it is impossible to avoid toxins. We are exposed to environmental, chemical and metal toxins on a daily basis. They are in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the foods we consume and many of the personal care products that we use on a regular basis.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Multisectoral action is urgently needed to protect human health from the harmful effects of improperly managed chemicals.”
Like it or not, we are all living with environmental toxins in our bodies, and when there is an internal buildup of these toxic materials health issues can ensue and you begin to experience those unpleasant symptoms that are too quickly chalked up to aging by so many.
So what can you do? Well, there are a few basic steps that you can take to reduce the toxic overload.
First, let’s look at nutrition and the idea of detoxifying your diet as a means to bring your body back into nutritional balance. Keep in mind, cleaning your insides does not have to mean deprivation, a week-long juice fast, or one of the many cleansing products on the market. It simply means that it is time to take a break from the bad stuff and incorporate more of the good into your eating habits.
Processed and fast foods have become a staple in the Standard American diet because they are convenient and inexpensive; however, this “convenience” comes with a high price tag—your health! These foods typically contain many artificial chemicals that have been linked to chronic diseases, hyperactivity, and hypersensitivity. Some examples of these chemicals are
- High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that, as the name suggests, comes from corn and is the product of processing and manufacturing to achieve a fructose type product that has been linked to Fatty Liver Disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia and heart attacks.
- Artificial Food Dyes that have been banned in many countries due to serious adverse health effects including hyperactivity, chromosomal damage (DNA damage), cancer, migraine headaches, asthma, and allergic reactions.
- Artificial preservatives used to lengthen shelf life, many of which have been linked to adverse health conditions. In 1986 the FDA banned the use of sulfates on fruits and vegetables yet they continue to be added to many processed foods even though they are known to cause allergic reactions in certain individuals, especially those suffering from asthma.
- Modified Corn Starch is a highly processed corn product made from genetically modified corn. For more on GMOs see GMOs are Inherently Unsafe.
- Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame which has been linked to heart arrhythmias, and sucralose which has been found to alter intestinal flora by destroying good bacteria (probiotics) that is needed for a healthy immune system.
Ready to close the door on convenient store foods and drive-through windows yet?
Here is another thing to consider. Fast and processed food is not only eaten on a regular basis because of the convenience but also because it is tasty! This is because the food industry knows exactly how to combine just the right amounts of unhealthy fats, salts, and sugars to create a taste and texture that you crave.
Not to mention the creative marketing campaigns that convince us that we “deserve” to eat these foods or that if we are feeling lonely or sad these foods will instantly connect us to others and inspire some happy dancing in the streets! But then when we do give into the junk food craving it doesn’t take long before reality sets in—there will be no rockin’ out with our new “besties” because now we feel tired, heavy and in need of a nap! Is this really what you deserve?
Here is some more good news. As you begin your detox journey and remove the mass-produced food items from your daily menu, you will begin to crave them less and less. At the same time, as you begin piling your plate with whole, unprocessed, preservative and dye free alternatives it won’t be long before you are craving the healthier more natural options. It’s really not that difficult!
Don’t forget to increase your consumption of fresh organic fruits and vegetables, especially those that promote detoxification like green leafy vegetables, lemons, and limes, garlic, grapefruit, beets and avocado. (The list goes on.) Also be sure to read food labels so that you always know exactly what you are putting in your body.
Just as important as nourishing your body with the right foods is making sure that you are drinking extra water—filtered of course! Though we are told that tap water is safe to drink, there are many studies linking the chemicals found in tap water to various health conditions.
Did you know that approximately 40% of all bottled water tested is actually tap water?
For this reason, the best way to ensure that the water you are drinking is clean and healthy is to purchase a water filter. There are a number of water filter systems on the market ranging from small economical filters such as PUR, Brita, and Zerowater, to larger Reverse-osmosis filters that come with a much heavier price tag. For more on filter systems refer to Water, Water Everywhere, But Is There Any Healthy Water To Drink.
Just as important as what you put into your body is what you put on your body. Many of the harmful chemicals found in food are also commonly found in personal care products that are used on a regular basis. Many detergents, lotions, soaps, and other personal care items often contain artificial coloring and other skin-irritating chemicals. For example:
- Formaldehyde: A gaseous compound that is absorbed through the skin. It is poisonous if swallowed and an irritant if inhaled. Formaldehyde is found in nail products, most hair dyes, fake eyelash adhesives, and many shampoos. It is banned in the EU.
- Fragrance/Parfum: A mixture of chemicals and ingredients that likely contain phthalates (a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible). Synthetic fragrance is associated with headaches, dizziness, asthma, and allergies.
- Hydroquinone: A compound used for skin bleaching. It is banned in the UK and rated most toxic on the EWG’s Skin Deep Database. Hydroquinone may cause genetic damage in humans.
- Oxybenzone: Absorbs UVB and short UVA rays to help prevent sunburn, thus preventing skin cancer. However, oxybenzone has been shown to penetrate the skin causing photosensitivity, and photosensitivity increases the likelihood of developing skin cancer, thus making it a contributing factor in the increased risk of cancer among sunscreen users. For more on sunscreen and skin cancer be sure to check out The Truth About The Sun, Sunscreens and Skin Cancer.
- Parabens: Preservatives added to many cosmetics, personal care products, and some water bottles. Parabens are absorbed through the skin and several studies have found a link between the use of paraben-containing products and breast cancer.
Begin reading labels on the products you use on a regular basis and replace any items containing toxic compounds with more natural and organic versions. For more information about harmful chemicals found in personal care products and smart product choices check out Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database.
Now it’s time for a little housecleaning.
Many people don’t realize that they are exposed to harmful chemicals on a daily basis in the comfort of their own homes. For example:
- Benzene: According to the World Health Organization, “Benzene, a known carcinogen, can enter the home from outdoor sources including nearby traffic and automobile exhaust. Cans of gasoline stored in an attached garage, tobacco smoke, and products such paints, furniture waxes, and detergents can release benzene fumes into the home.” The report goes on to note “levels of benzene are higher in homes with attached garages than in those with detached garages.” Health effects linked to chronic exposure to Benzene include headaches and dizziness, fatigue, inability to concentrate, neurological problems, and cancer. It should be noted that alcohol enhances the toxic effect of benzene.
- Formaldehyde: The Environmental Protection Agency reports that “Sources of Formaldehyde in the home include building materials, smoking, household products, and the use of unvented, fuel-burning appliances, like gas stoves or kerosene space heaters.” Your carpet is another common source for hidden traces of formaldehyde. Health effects linked to chronic exposure to Formaldehyde include burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat, watery eyes, coughing, wheezing, nausea and skin irritation.
- Xylene: Xylene is a colorless liquid with a slightly sweet smell found in common household products such as paints, lacquers, adhesives, paint thinners, gasoline, and permanent magic markers. According to the EPA, “Chronic (long-term) inhalation exposure of humans to mixed xylenes results primarily in central nervous system (CNS) effects, such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue, tremors, and incoordination; respiratory, cardiovascular, and kidney effects have also been reported.”
- Toluene: According to the EPA website, “Toluene is added to gasoline, used to produce benzene, and used as a solvent. Exposure to toluene may occur from breathing ambient or indoor air affected by such sources. The central nervous system (CNS) is the primary target organ for toluene toxicity in both humans and animals for acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) exposures.
The best thing you can do is remove sources of these harmful chemicals from your home. Realistically, however, it is impossible to create an absolutely pure environment. Fortunately, there are a couple of things that you can do to help filter these chemicals from the air in your home.
In the 1980s, NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America researched houseplants that may be used to purify the air in space facilities. The study concluded that the number one air-filtering houseplant is the English Ivy! Other plants that have been found to reduce the number of toxins in the air include the Peace Lily, Palm, Spider Plant, Aloe Vera, Chrysanthemum, Ficus and Golden Pothos. (WARNING: Some of these plants may be toxic to animals so although your pets also deserve to breathe clean air, be sure to check the ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic plants prior to purchasing any houseplant.)
In addition to adding some greenery to your home, you may want to consider using a Himalayan salt lamp. Himalayan salt lamps release negative salt ions into the air that attract harmful positively charged ions that are produced by electronic devices. These negative ions neutralize the positive ones so that they lose their damaging components. Himalayan salt lamps have been shown to purify the air as well as reduce stress, improve mood and improve breathing.
The more toxins that we are exposed to, the harder our bodies have to work to get rid of them. These toxins compromise our immune systems, cause inflammation and, as you can see from the examples, play a large role in the development of many diseases, including cancer, autoimmune, arthritis and heart disease. Even depression and anxiety have been linked to an overload of certain toxic substances.
So if you are feeling a sense of emotional unbalance or a decline in your physical health it is very possible that your body is telling you that it could use a little detox in the form of making some healthier choices for yourself. Even if you are feeling pretty good a little internal cleaning is always a good idea. There is a good chance that you may realize after a few weeks of detoxification that you really were not at your optimal state of health.
So to bring it all home:
- Whole organic foods whenever possible.
- At least 64 ounces of filtered water each day. Try adding some organic lemon and/or cucumber to increase the benefits.
- Reduce the chemical load in your home by getting rid of the toxic products that are not absolutely necessary and add a few natural air-filtering agents.
- Reduce your stress. By nature, we all want to take care of others but it is important not to lose sight of the need to take care of ourselves. Practice deep breathing and meditation to unwind.
As you begin to embrace a cleaner lifestyle pay attention to how you feel. Everyone is unique so as you experiment with different clean foods and personal care products, and make some environmental changes, listen to your body. It will tell you what it needs, and what it doesn’t.
And one last thing you should be aware of—when beginning a course of detoxification you may experience what is known as a Healing Reaction/Crisis. (Also known as the Herxheimer Effect based on the works of Dr. Karl Herxheimer.) This means that you may have some gastrointestinal discomfort, headache, chills, nausea, fever, aches and/or pains. Although uncomfortable this is nothing to worry about and typically does not last for more than a few days. Experiencing a healing crisis is natural and is actually a good thing as it means that toxins, bacteria and other pathogenic organisms that have been accumulating in your body are being released at a faster rate than your body can eliminate them.